Mad schemes for motivation

27th April 2007 at 01:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

during my Easter holiday I received an excited phone call from a head friend. "Henry, I've got enough material for 10 columns!" He and a group of staff had just had some in-service training from a self-confessed inspirational teacher.

One of the top tips he received was to use "magic dust", sprinkling glitter on children's heads to help inspire them. Presumably, by the end of the day the pupils will look like they've just survived a disco in Chernobyl. I'm sure that's the sort of thing parents will appreciate. ("Mrs Knuckles, please. Put down the shopping bags and screaming baby and come into my office so I can explain. Your son's clothes are covered in magic dust! Now, Mrs Knuckles, I don't think that sort of language is suitable for a school playground... ) The scariest thing about the day was that some staff thought it might be worth trying. In the session, staff were also (no lie) entreated to play "Simply the Best" to their class to help motivate them. David Brent would be pleased.

I have had my share of humiliation throughout my teaching career. Still, I now realise that when a Year 6 class is rapt with attention to my descriptions of river-valley formation, it has less to do my with my excellent oratory and more to do with the fact that my flies are undone.

But some teachers are ready to make fools of themselves for no particular purpose.

I will never forget sitting with 500 colleagues at a Sats-marking meeting.

The chief of the exam board Edexcel said they had just commissioned a survey to find out why teachers marked Sats. After the sniggers, he took questions. A middle-aged lady asked, as it was her first time marking and she had a family, what time did Edexcel think she should cook her children's tea?

Once I went to a heads' meeting and watched a presentation on something called "Activate", which involved classes in mass synchronised robotic dancing to Art of Noise B-sides. I then listened to someone explain how all the exercises were about "crossing the brain's midline" (apologies to those without biology degrees who feel I'm getting too technical), which helps to improve co-ordination and literacy skills. While I tried to clutch a drawing pin tightly to stop myself from exploding with laughter, five heads piped up to say that they had already bought the scheme.

Such moments can scar a sensitive soul like myself forever. I still carry the awful memory of my PGCE course when my lecturer - a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman - decided to rap to us the story of Felix the Rap Cat. Brrrrr, a cold shiver of fear just went down my spine.

I'm off to find some inspirational music to placate Mrs Knuckles. "Do you really want to hurt me?"

More from Henry in a fortnight

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